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After the Fall: Damage Assessment

Paul James copes with landscape damage from a fallen tree, including the repair of a serious injury of a Japanese maple.

With a massive oak tree suddenly fallen in host Paul James' yard, there are plenty of landscape issues to deal with:

  • A Japanese maple has been wounded. One large branch is lost, and another large one has been ripped away from the tree, pulling bark and more all the way to the ground (figure A).

    The fix: James wants to keep the prized maple because replacing it would run into the thousands of dollars. And also it's part of a matched set. So James repairs the damage:

    Figure B

    1. He trims the bark and some of the interior wood in such a way that he encourages the wounds to callous or heal. He uses a very sharp grafting knife to clean up the wounds (figure B). Where the outer bark has separated from the interior wood, he makes a clean cut back to where the bark is still attached. He also cleans up any ragged edges along the way. This is a slow process, but with any luck, the bark should begin to grow over the inner wood.

    Figure D

    Within the damaged trunk, he cuts away any areas where the wood has been crushed, again so the wounds will heal more quickly.

    2. Packs the wounds with a sort of poultice, one made of moist sphagnum peat moss (figure D). The peat moss is sterile, and it will helps keep the tree tissue moist to foster healing.

    Figure E

    3. Wraps the peat moss with a single layer of bubble wrap and secure its with tape (figure E).

    4. Checks the moisture level of the moss periodically,misting it when necessary, and inspects the wounds for any signs of rot (which he doesn't expect) and healing.

    James is hopeful that this tree will recover completely because Japanese maples, despite their delicate appearance, are amazingly resilient trees.

    With the loss of the oak tree, his shade garden is now in full sun, an outright stressor — if not a killer — of plants that demand shade. The oak tree's unfortunate demise happened in the height of summer's heat, the worst time to move many plants. For much of the area, there's nothing that James can do except to make sure it gets watered more frequently and provide a shade cloth where he can.

    "I am concerned about both Japanese maples' exposure to full sun, because they were shaded by the oak their whole lives, but there's not much I can do about that. In fact, although the leaves may experience some tip burn in the middle of summer, it's entirely possible the trees will fill out a bit and color up more than before due to more sunlight."

    Other plants such as ferns, ginger, yews and many other choice plants all require quite a bit of shade. But since they too wouldn't tolerate a move at this point, "I'm going to leave them alone and hope for the best."

    The dogwoods, understory trees by nature, need at least afternoon shade, and there's nothing he can do for those at the moment except provide plenty of water to avoid stressing them further. He'll do the same for the shade-loving plants below the dogwoods, for although they're still somewhat protected, they aren't getting nearly as much shade now as they did a week ago.

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